A face for early childhood teaching?

Do you have the face for early childhood teaching?

The importance of early childhood educators being aware of the relationship between their face and the child’s recently struck KAREN HOPE. In this piece, Karen takes a closer look at this, as well as the children’s emotions and the impact these emotions might have on their learning and development. 

In 2016 at the Early Childhood Australia National Conference in Darwin, I attended Maria Aarts’ keynote presentation. Maria is the founder of the Marte Meo method, which is an educational instruction focusing on children’s strengths as a way of activating communication and interactions between children and adults. Observation is an important diagnostic tool in this approach. During the presentation, Maria spoke about the importance of caregiver interactions and positive communication. So important were these interactions, she said teachers ‘with the good face should get paid more.’ Recently, I remembered her quote when I observed the important relationship between teachers’ faces and how children learn and develop.

As a university lecturer, I show my education students the Still Face Experiment, which American developmental psychologist Dr Edward Tronick developed in 1975. This famous experiment showing how both positive and negative adult emotions impact a young child, powerfully demonstrates to students how responding or not responding to children immediately influences their physical and emotional wellbeing. Children naturally seek connection with others and when their efforts to engage with others are poorly responded to or not at all, the consequence for some children, as demonstrated in the video, is felt immediately.

The serve and return theory is well established in the early childhood education and care sector. This idea that the hundreds of interactions children give and receive each day shape their brains’ architecture is at the forefront of how we interact daily with young children. Constant back-and-forth interaction, as well as verbal and non-verbal communication support and strengthen human relationships. Infancy is a critical time for human beings to develop trusting relationships with adults.

With all this in mind, I have considered the relationship between adults’ faces and children’s emotions. I’ve thought about what impact these emotions might have on children’s learning and development.

What does your face say to children? Does it convey warmth, interest, kindness, enthusiasm, intelligence and curiosity or does it contribute little to the receiver?

Recently, I piloted a partnership with a Melbourne-based early learning centre and had a group of four-year-old children help me teach my Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary) students. This partnership was recently published in The Sector. In a tutorial class that took place at a local park within a large public housing estate, the students were instructed to do nothing more than be present with the children. While I observed the students and children interact, I remembered Maria Aarts’ quote.

A second-year Bachelor of Education student, Charlotte, caught my attention. Her face told the story. Her face conveyed laughter, questioning, presence, engagement and interest. Her attention was most definitely joined to the child’s attention. You cannot fake an interest and enthusiasm for children; it is inherent. You either have it or you don’t. The children knew she had it and their facial expressions mimicked hers. They had responded in kind.

It is so important for early childhood educators to be aware of the relationship between their face and children. What does your face say to children?

Karen Hope

Karen is an early childhood consultant, lecturer and freelance writer who has extensive experience in a broad range of services within the early childhood care and education context. Her consultancy practice and teaching aims to provide teachers and educators with a disruptive approach to working with, and thinking about, children. Challenging taken for granted practices and dominant discourses is a feature of her work.

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